The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

Which is one of the reasons why I think that the right of reply is quite an important weapon, because it's outside all of the -- I mean, I think there are different ways in which a new regulator could be organised around tribunals and lots of different ideas about carrots and sticks, but I think that to have a statutory right of reply which kind of floats above all of it would apply to the Internet as well. In fact, it would apply primarily to the Internet because it's on the Internet that it's easiest to do.

There's absolutely no reason why every single internal outlet should not be required, as long as -- I mean, as long as they were within British jurisdiction, which clearly does raise some problems, but I think it's not insurmountable, if everybody simply had to promise to give the right of reply at the bottom of any article and above the comments -- it's not the same as a comment column, it's a right of reply column. I think if that was something that simply everybody had to produce, I think for a start it would mean that you would begin to see the use of internal ombudsmen. I think you would begin to see that newspapers would rather conciliate than publish a reply in a right of reply slot.

I think it would simply mean that every time you write an article, you would know that immediately below where you had written, somebody else could come along and say, "This is all made up". I mean, there would have to be checks and balances about it. There would have to be -- it would have to be quite carefully worked up how such a right of reply would be used, but I think it would have quite a salutary effect because it would be immediate. It would mean that if somebody wrote something about you today and you heard about it, there's no reason why within hours you shouldn't have your right of reply up there on the Internet.

There have been lots of complains for right of reply over a number of years, and they've always been squashed because the editors have always said, "We can't have a right of reply because it would completely ruin our newspapers. We don't want somebody who doesn't know how to write getting kind of a space bang slap in the middle of one of our beautifully organised pages".

Actually, there was some point in that. It would have looked strange on a regular basis to have something on the front page saying, "Actually, what we said yesterday was wrong". I think there are occasions when that's necessary, when somebody has clearly said something that's completely wrong, but if you had a right of reply that is simply always exercised online where it's easy, and there's no argument that I can think of against it, you are improving democracy, you are improving accountability and you are going some way towards balancing the freedom of press with the freedom of expression of the individual. And it would be terribly easy. Which means there must be something wrong with it.

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